THE BIG PICTURE
We arrived in Zurich about three hours early for our connection to Appenzell, so we had some time to "see" Switzerland's largest city. We took a bus an hour or so east to St. Gallen and then south about half an hour to Appenzell where we stayed to hike this area. Six days later we traveled south and west to Engelberg for another week of alpine hiking. Our return flight was out of Zurich.
From the old and pleasantly situated village of Mayenfeld, a footpath winds through green and shady meadows to the foot of the mountains, which on this side look down from their stern and lofty heights upon the valley below. The land grows gradually wilder as the path ascends, and the climber has not gone far before he begins to inhale the fragrance of the short grass and sturdy mountain-plants, for the way is steep and leads directly up to the summits above.So begins Johanna Spyri's 1880 (1881?) classic, "Heidi." Throughout the story, the images she paints of her native Swiss Alps are strong and have lured travelers from all over the world to enjoy the beauty of the alpine scenery. Many places in our country have built upon the romantic imagery of Switzerland by comparing local settings with that area; in Colorado, for example, the town of Ouray in the San Juan Mountains advertises itself as the "Switzerland of America," and they are not far off. Here in Nederland, we are less than five miles from the famous "Switzerland Trail," a 19th century railroad that once ran from Boulder west to the mining areas in the front range and is now a scenic area for mountain bikers.
SOME HISTORICAL NOTES
1. We've often wondered why the Swiss cars had a "CH" label on them next to the license plates. The Dutch have "NL" for Netherlands, "F" is for France, and so forth. What does "CH" stand for? Confoederatio Helvetica--Helvetia being the tribe of Celts who were living there over 2000 years ago. The Celts left their imprint almost everywhere in Europe, including Switzerland (e.g., "alp" is the Celtic word for "mountain").
2. Rome failed to conquer the region, but the Germanic Altemanni tribe from the north settled the area in the 5th century. The territory was united under the Holy Roman Empire in 1032. Modern Switzerland grew out of a confederation established in 1291 by three small city-states--Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden--who declared their independence from Austrian rule. This historic moment took place at Rutli Meadows, "The Cradle of Switzerland," a modest site of such national importance that sometime during their school years, students are usually brought to this beautiful area above the shore of the Vierwaldstattersee (Lake Lucerne). By 1815, this confederation grew into the modern boundaries of Switzerland as other city-states joined.
3. Modern Switzerland avoids political alliances; they're not, for example, members of the UN, NATO, or the European Union, although there is current pressure to join the EU. The country is often referred to as "neutral," though the history of Switzerland during WW II, which many Swiss are now recognizing publicly, was anything but "neutral." More power is held by cantons to govern their local affairs than is granted to the central government. There are 26 cantons (states), six of which are "half cantons" that were formed when three cantons (Appenzell, Unterwalden and Basel) split in two: e.g., Appenzell split into Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden, part for the Catholics, part for Protestants.
4. Citizens of the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden hold their annual "Landsgemeinde" in the town square. Voters (women were granted voting privileges only within the last ten years) raise their hands in public to vote for or against political candidates, proposed ordinances, applicants for Swiss citizenship, and other issues. Hands are counted and the outcome is known immediately.
5. There are four national languages recognized in Switzerland: German, French, Italian, and Romansch (spoken by about 1% of the people living in southeast areas).
6. The story of William Tell stands foursquare alongside the story of George Washington cutting down (or as Parson Weems wrote, "barked") the cherry tree.
Switzerland is comprised of three regions: The Jura in the north makes up the French and German alpine region; The Midlands, an area of flat and rolling countryside that makes up 30% of the land and where most of the people live; and The Alps, which comprises the 60% of the land across the southern part of the country and home of our two hiking destinations.
HIKING IN APPENZELL
Appenzell is a canton , a dog, and a postcard pretty rural village of about twenty randomly placed blocks nestled at the foot of Mt. Santis (elevation about 8100') and the Alpstein region. Just a few miles to the east is the Rhine River and, across it, the Austrian Alps. While there is some skiing around Appenzell during the winter, this village of 4,000 and the area are best known and well suited to hiking, as well as to raising Brown Swiss cows and making Appenzell cheese. (Note: Albert Manser's 1987 picture book, "Little Albert," uses beautiful folk art paintings to faithfully depict a year in the life of a typical Appenzeller family. His work, along with other folk artists, was on display and for sale in several stores in Appenzell as well as the museum shop. It's also likely found in your public library.)
The Hotel Lowen (below) is ideally located in the heart of this small town, across from shops and restaurants, close to the train station, two blocks from a river path perfect for morning runs, near the magnificent St. Mauritius Church with its garden-like cemetery where folks are permitted a burial spot for twenty-five years only; after that their bones are exhumed and buried in the church crypt, thereby making room for another year of parish deaths). The storefronts that face the narrow streets have hand painted facades and shutters. (This "tradition" of decorated store fronts goes back only to the 1930s and was started by in itinerant painter looking for work.) The village is maintained for window shopping and tourists who come by the bus loads during the day and usually leave before dinner.
The elevation of Appenzell is about 2,700' and our hikes took us no higher than 6,000'. The terrain ranges from flat along the rivers to moderate grades in the mountains. We used trains, cable cars, and buses to reach our trail heads. We measured hiking distances in hours rather than miles, and averaged three to five hours of actual hiking time each day. Our hikes in the Appenzell area took us to:
HIKING IN ENGELBERG
We left Appenzell for Engelberg, stopping at the medieval castle of Werdenberg, above the modern village of Grabs. The castle, overlooking the Rhine, was built about 1230-40 C.E. Major restoration was completed in the 19th century by new owners and eventually donated in 1956 to the Canton of St. Gall(en) and made open to the public. We passed through Liechtenstein (more banks than churches) and on to Engelberg (elevation 3400') situated about an hour south of Lucerne by train. (Note: Engelberg means angel [engel] mountain [berg] and refers to a vision by an early monk who, casting about for a place to settle, saw an angel on a mountain and decided to stay.)
We settled in to our rooms at the once grand Hotel Hess (it will be torn down this fall), just a short stroll to the heart of this picturesque ski village at the foot of Mt. Titlis (10,000'). The setting reminded us a great deal of Telluride, Aspen, Ouray and other Colorado ski towns: a narrow river valley, steep hillsides, snow on the peaks, with a small town stretching along the valley where the land is flat.
In addition to the hiking in Engelberg, we were fortunate to be in town for two major events. There was a national dressage competition in the park in town where we were able to watch some of the horses and riders practice their programs in the afternoon and evening. In addition, the day we toured Engelberg's magnificent Benedictine abbey and monastery, built in 1120 C.E. was on the day of the town's Corpus Christi celebration. After our tour of the monastery and abbey led by the curator, we hurried back to the park where townsfolk were gathering to parade to the church: priests, nuns, old people, families, and lots of well dressed children in procession to the church for services. We followed and stayed for much of the service to enjoy the huge organ which was capable of filling the church with bone-rattling sound. Alas, the organist was timid.
The kind and extent of our hikes in Engelberg was dependent upon the weather. Unlike the warm sunny days in Appenzell, the mountains surrounding Engelberg were often clouded over, the skies were gray, and we had drizzle and even snow and white-out conditions one day. Despite it all, we had some fine hiking.
Not all of our hiking was in the mountains. We engaged in some serious urban hiking as well. We enjoyed three walking tours (guided) during our two weeks: St. Gallen , just north of Appenzell; Lucerne, called "the most picturesque town in Switzerland," and it certainly might be; and Rutli Meadows (not really urban, nor did it involve much hiking).
St. Gallen ("St. Gall" on Swiss maps)
We became aware once again of the Celtic heritage in Switzerland. The name of St. Gall must certainly have come from the 7th century monk, Gallus, a follower of St. Columbanus, who arrived in the Lake Constance area around 612 C.E. with books, both liturgical and biblical. A scriptorium was built and monks from the area took up the art of copying books. A monastery, founded in the next century by the Benedictines, became the foundation for the remarkable Abbey Library of Saint Gall that we toured. In it we saw hundreds of handwritten and illuminated manuscripts preserved for public viewing. The interior of the library is equally magnificent with wood inlays, paintings, and frescos in ornate Baroque designs. The abbey is a Baroque-Roccoco structure with a great pipe organ and, like all the churches we visited, with clear windows to allow for plenty of sunlight.
The monastery and abbey are in the heart of the old part of the city: narrow winding streets where the shops and apartments seem to lean out toward each other in a canopy of stucco, brick, and timbers. Not only is St. Gallen a university town, but was a linen/embroidery center at the turn of the last century which gave the town its wealth. We had coffee and pastries at the Pelikan, a small cafe in the old town where, our waiter proudly informed us, "Your Mrs. Clinton sat right over there at that table" during a visit sometime in the past eight years.
Lucerne ("Luzern" on Swiss maps)
Lucerne is a wonderful city for roaming, walking, looking, sitting, and taking pictures. Once we left the main train station and the new and controversial modern concert and convention building across the street, we were back into the Middle Ages (albeit with car traffic). Among the sights we thought worth seeing are:
There is some controversy among historians about whether or not representatives of the three rebellious cantons--Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden--in fact met in this particular pasture above Lake Lucerne to form the original confederation of cantons that later become Switzerland. That they did meet on August 1, 1291, and signed the "Rutli Oath" is well documented. Where the event took place doesn't seem to really matter to most Swiss who come here to pay their respects to the origins of the country. Besides, it's a beautiful spot and an easy walk to the lake to board one of the fifteen steamers that take folks around Lake Lucerne (on Swiss maps it's called "Vierwaldstattersee," which means "the lake of the four forest cantons") from one town to another. Along the way, you can stop to visit the William Tell Chapel and a monument to Friedreich Von Schiller, whose 1805 drama, "Wilhelm Tell," put the Tell legend in the history books, so to speak. In 1991, to honor the 700 years since the confederation, 26 markers--one for each canton and half canton--were placed from Rutli to Urnersee separated by a distance calculated at five centimeters (?) for every resident of that canton, and in order of the canton's date of joining the confederation.
SOME LASTING IMAGES
Our thanks to the other members of the Elderhostel group for making our two weeks so enjoyable, especially to our fellow hikers: to Ray who set a steady pace and kept us moving; to Ann and Philip who kept thoughtful conversation flowing and always saw the light side of things; to Bob and Dace who enthusiastically shared their previous hiking trips with us; to Diane for her abilities to see through the camera's lens; and to her brother, Ray, who has promised to visit us in Colorado to do some high altitude hiking here in Nederland.
In fact, the invitation goes out to you all. We think if you liked Switzerland, you're bound to like our area. Just take a look at the picture on our home page: doesn't that photograph of Nederland look a little like Switzerland? Come see for yourself.